July 2013

On Wednesday June 19th, LSNTAP and Pro Bono Net collaborated on a webinar highlighting the Mobile Accessibility Strategies of various partner organizations. The webinar was moderated by Xander Karsten, LawHelp Program Coordinator at Pro Bono Net, and presentations on various mobile campaigns were given by Mike Monahan, Pro Bono Director at the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project; Raquel Colon, Director of Development at Legal Services of Northern Virginia; Gwen Daniels, Illinois Legal Aid Online Director of Technology Development; Tony Lu CitizenshipWorks Project Coordinator at Immigration Advocates Network; and Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net.

The three main types of mobile tools highlighted in this webinar were SMS, Mobile Apps, and Mobile Sites.

SMS (Short Message Service) or Text Messaging

Text messaging campaigns can be used as a way of making legal information available to large numbers of low-income clients. Mike Monahan provided insight into a text messaging campaign initiated by the Georgia State Bar Pro Bono Project, with the help of an LSC Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) and assistance from a number of partners, including Pro Bono Net. The project will allow legal information from GeorgiaLegalAid.org to be sent quickly to people who request it. The project allows legal information to be sent quickly to people who request it. Clients could, for example, text a keyword or phrase such as “Protective Order” to an assigned SMS number and receive back specific information relevant to domestic violence, such as training, protective order, links to helpful sites. A system like this could prove extremely useful in emergency situations, when time is of the essence. Monahan also mentioned the creation of an outreach tool kit, to provide a model or best practices approach for other programs.

In addition to sharing legal information via text message, our partners are developing systems to notify clients via text message, email, or voice mail to remind them of important appointments or court hearing dates. Raquel Colon of Legal Services of Northern Virginia presented on the Appointment Reminder System, a 2012 LSC TIG Grant project. The project arose as a response to a problem with chronic no-shows, applicants and clients were consistently missing appointment dates. The goal of this project is to increase efficiency by reducing the resources and time spent dealing with missed or rescheduled appointments. A vital part of the project is working with a developer such as Twilio Cloud Communications to make sure the automated voice and text message notifications are integrated with existing software. They are also working to develop a system to integrate the SMS campaign with Kemp’s case management system, to extract data and develop safeguards against sending reminders to clients who may be in a situation where it is not safe to receive them.


Mobile Applications or Apps

Using the 2010 TIG grant funded Legal Aid App as an example, Gwen Daniels described the development process for creating a smartphone App for both iPhone and Android. To develop a prototype for the app, programs like Balsamiq Mockups allowed the creation of examples of what the app would look like before coding began, but Illustrator, PowerPoint, or even pen and paper could also be used. Daniels pointed out that it is important to address a number of factors before an app can be developed. For example, making sure an app fits Google and Apple’s app store guidelines so it can be approved for sale is a vital step. Also, keeping the app up to date and compatible is another challenge that must be addressed.  Smartphone app format also limits content to smaller chunks; the resources available in the app should all be “mobile friendly”. However the smartphone app format does provide advantages such as synching with smartphone contacts and calendars. It should also be noted that this project has had ancillary benefits in areas such as public relations and outreach.

Tony Lu presented on his experience developing the CitizenshipWorks Mobile App, and stressed the importance of extensive planning and testing ahead of time. One of the things he emphasized is to clearly define the scope of the project to avoid what he calls “scope creep”. The “kitchen sink approach” or trying to create an app that does everything can quickly lead to overreaching and cause a big problem for the project. It is important to have a very clearly defined idea of what your app is going to do. This is highly recommended when contracting an outside company, such as American Eagle, who built the Android and IoS version of the CitizenshipWorks App. Free online services like MindMeister can be used to create a logic work flow of the app and can create a very straightforward map of the requirements for your app. Wireframes or skeletons of the App can also be created with programs like keynote or PowerPoint, and can give a very good impression of the limitations that the screen size will impose on the content of your app. Unifying the design of the App with the design of the website is also an important consideration, and maintaining consistency with font and icons is recommended.  The CitizenshipWorks App also had some success turning design elements (such as icons) into interface elements (such as a links) as a way to deal with the size constraints of the small screen. Another important factor is testing the App, to ensure that it works on older phones and not just the newest models.  Emulators can be used but Lu advises caution, since emulators are not always a perfect representation how it will work in the field. This app is now available for download at both the Google and iTunes stores


Mobile Sites

Liz Keith spoke about a TIG funded project in progress by Legal Aid Services of Northeastern Minnesota called “Pro Bono To Go”. This project is designed to provide support to advocates in situations where getting such support would otherwise be difficult. This includes features such as a mobile version of ProJusticeMN.org, as well as checklists for settlements, and client interview guides. The mobile optimized settlement checklist, for example, is useful for helping attorneys respond more effectively to unexpected settlement opportunities that may arise in court and will point out problems that may be overlooked. The mobile interview guides are intended to provide help with key issue spotting, making walk-in interview sessions go more efficiently.

Under this project, Pro Bono Net is developing an HTML5 mobile website app for the probono.net platform that includes a mobile specific interface. While ProJusticeMN is being utilized for the pilot stage of this project, the mobile capabilities and authoring tools will be available to other probono.net network sites. The development will begin in the second half of the year. It will be informed by a survey developed and administered by Legal Services State Support, which interviewed pro bono coordinators and volunteer attorneys to help identify priority areas for checklist and interview guide content development. The survey results showed the preferred topics for checklists and guides, with divorce and child custody and landlord/tenant cases being among the most valued categories among responders.

Volunteers also took a survey that asked they wanted to work with these resources. The results showed that the option to email the resources, download the resources for offline use, and print versions of the resources were considered very important. These survey results will help guide the creation of the ten guides and ten checklists for the mobile site.

The webinar concluded with a short presentation by Xander Karsten, who reviewed a few other technological features that others are using in their mobile strategies. Geolocation can help with the creation of mobile optimized Google maps to integrate information such as the location of offices or courts. Mobile video was also discussed, with sites like YouTube and Facebook mentioned as providing mobile accessible video platforms. Video content should also be considered when creating mobile videos as certain factors such as the small screen size can impose limitations. Videos can also be used in other ways, and can be tied in with SMS campaigns, providing numbers for viewers to text at the end of the video for further information, or to “unlock” further parts of the video.

For those who want to view the entire hour long webinar, a recording is available here. The next webinar in this series will be on August 7th, and will be on the topic of cloud security.


By Jake Hertz, Program Associate

As a new employee at Pro Bono Net, I attended the Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Services in New York’s Second Annual Conference on Access to Justice and Law Schools as something of an outsider insider. I was in the legal services world, but not yet of it. My informed naiveté provides me with a unique perspective on the conference discussions, the justice gap, and the access to justice problems the Task Force is working to address.

In his summary remarks, Cardozo School of Law Dean, Matthew Diller, commented on the supply and demand issues of the legal community. In economics the beauty of supply and demand is that they are self-correcting. Too much demand, prices go up and demand goes down. Excess supply? Prices go down, the incentive to produce goes down with them, and supply returns to its equilibrium value. Dean Diller commented that critics who attempt to explain and simplify the problems facing the legal community with supply and demand typically overcomplicate and misrepresent the issues. Unlike in textbook economics, the legal community currently exists with excess supply and excess demand. We have an excess of young lawyers and not enough legal jobs to employ them all. At the same time, millions of litigants across the country need legal help, but can’t afford to access it. The situation makes analogies to the self-correcting world of economics of little help.That said, analogies are useful! The question is, what is the right analog for the problems facing the legal community? While listening to the panels and sessions at the Conference and reading the Task Force’s report, I kept thinking about the similarities between the problems under discussion and the well-known issues facing the medical community.

In the legal context, overwhelming need hurts litigants by effectively denying them access to counsel, it taxes the resources of the Courts, and in the end produces outsized monetary and human costs to society at large. In the end, litigants have their problems adjudicated but they do so in the least effective and efficient way possible. It is similar to providing basic medical care in the ER. In both settings, vulnerable populations are forced to receive services in the least efficient manner and in a way that produces the greatest costs to society. In some respects, the problem in the legal system is even worse. People might not be able to diagnose themselves, but through experience they can usually tell whether or not they need to go to the hospital. By contrast, without sufficient information persons often enter the legal system seeks remedies for problems that the Courts cannot solve.One of the most powerful findings in the Task Force’s 2012 report is that the return on investment in legal services is 6:1. Every dollar we invest in providing poor New Yorkers with legal services returns six dollars to the state at large! Again, the situation is very similar to the problems facing the medical community. By investing in preventative measures and ensuring that small problems are identified and solved before they become big ones, both fields can save millions of dollars and make their clients’ lives easier, healthier, and more productive.

Saving time by simplifying the solutions to small problems is a central challenge facing both the medical and legal communities, and with varying degrees of success both fields are investing in innovative technologies to adapt their 20th century practices to the 21st century. The importance of using electronic medical records to provide doctors with insight into their peers’ work is recognized throughout the profession. While information technology has revolutionized the practice of law through basic innovations such as email and electronic legal libraries, the legal community is just beginning to understand the vast potential for technology to further progress the profession with tools ranging from Google Docs and other cloud-based services collaboration to more complex uses including easing the process of compiling documents for pro se litigants and employing sophisticated computer programs to more efficiently triage individuals seeking legal help.. These innovations will ease and simplify clients’ interaction with the legal system, hopefully encouraging increased participation as people are become more inclined to seek out lawyers’ assistance.

One final important challenge facing both the legal and medical fields is how to best incorporate and utilize non-lawyer and non-doctor professionals. The medical community has been able to increase the breadth and scope of the services it provides by properly delegating and assigning responsibilities. As noted in testimony quoted in the Taskforce’s report:

Does a full fledged MD have to deliver every service needed to address every medical issue you face in order to receive quality care? No. Medical care is a team sport, provided by a wide variety of medical professionals: nurses, radiologic technologists, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, chiropractors, registered massage therapists, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, etc. Many of these providers are licensed and authorized to provide services directly to those with medical problems. They are not limited to working under the direct supervision of MDs. Thank goodness. Because if they were, we’d be paying MD rates for every sore throat and backache.

Technological innovations such as document assembly and mathematically-supported legal triage systems can increase the ability of non-lawyer legal professionals to provide services and thereby allowing JD-trained, bar licensed attorneys to address more complex and complicated issues that require their full attention and capabilities. The combination of technological innovations and greater roles for non-lawyer professionals offers the opportunity to bend the curves and allow the supply and demand of legal services to finally achieve a happy and stable equilibrium.

By Rachel Rosenfeld, Amanda Krause, and Tyler Gaston Georgetown University Law Center 

This past February, Mark O’Brien, Pro Bono Net Executive Director, went down to DC to Georgetown Law School to present to Professor Tanina Rostain’s Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice seminar at Georgetown University Law Center about access to justice, current technologies, and Pro Bono Net.

During the class, teams partnered with legal service providers, civil rights organizations, and state agencies to design apps, built in Neota Logic and A2J Author, to increase access to justice. These projects are based on practical needs, not theoretical problems. Students projects were judged at Iron Tech Lawyer, a competition held at Georgetown Law, where student teams show off the apps they built in our Technology Innovation and Law Practice practicum. Appearing before a panel of judges, students compete for prizes for Excellence in Design, Excellence in Presentation, and the all around best app: Iron Tech Lawyer.

Georgetown University Law Center is creating legal applications to help clients around the U.S. with various legal issues as part of a practicum course called Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice.  Our group assisted the National Women’s Law Center with a very current and pressing matter: the bullying and harassment of students who do not conform to gender stereotypes, i.e. “gender-based harassment.” Gender-based harassment includes harassment or bullying because a student does not fit gender stereotypes—for example, harassment of a female student because she does not act the way her peers think girls should act.

The National Women’s Law Center has expanded the possibilities for women and girls in this country by getting new laws on the books and enforced, litigating ground-breaking cases all the way to the Supreme Court, and educating the public about ways to make laws and public policies work for women and their families. Today NWLC continues to advance the issues that cut to the core of women’s lives in education, employment, family and economic security, and health and reproductive rights—with special attention given to the needs of low-income women and their families.

One of the laws NWLC focuses on is Title IX. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex- including bullying or harassment- in schools that receive federal funding.  It is not just about sports! A school may violate Title IX when serious sex-based harassment by classmates is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees. The Title IX application assists students who were bullied or harassed because they don’t conform to gender stereotypes. The app gives students resources they will need to get help if they have experienced gender-based harassment, including identifying the ways they can advocate for themselves with their schools.

The application was created by Georgetown Students as a public service that will be offered by the National Women’s Law Center on their website. A student experiencing bullying or harassment at school, a parent of the student experiencing bullying or harassment at school, or someone else advocating on behalf of a student (teacher, coach, social worker, etc.) is the target group of users for this application.  By answering the short questions in the application, it is able to give preliminary tailored information for students and parents regarding a student’s rights under Title IX and self-advocacy suggestions. This application helps attorneys collect stories, and aggregate data for later statistical analysis. Though the advisor is not a substitute for an attorney, it is designed to help a student who is experiencing harassment at school understand his or her legal options.

Web apps like the one created for NWLC are the future of the legal profession. The Technology, Innovation and Law Practice practicum course at Georgetown gave students hands-on experience in working with clients to build these apps that will significantly increase outreach in various important issue areas, such as Title IX, to help increase access to justice.